Navy deploys its first shipboard 3D metal printer

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Xerox says that an ElemX liquid metal printer recently installed on board USS Essex (LHD 2) is the first metal additive manufacturing machine to be deployed on a U.S. Navy vessel.

The Xerox ElemX was placed on the ship earlier this month in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, with at-sea trials beginning immediately. The installation is the latest step in the U.S. Navy’s strategy of using additive manufacturing (AM) to increase operational readiness for the fleet. It also builds on the relationship between the U.S. Navy and Xerox Elem Additive that began with the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, Calif., receiving the first-ever installation of the ElemX in 2020.

“The military supply chain is among the most complex in the world and putting the ElemX on USS Essex means that sailors can now bypass that complexity and print parts when and where they need them,” said Tali Rosman, general manager of Elem Additive. “We are proud to continue our partnership with the Navy to help them advance their additive manufacturing capabilities and execute their long-term vision.”

The ElemX leverages Xerox’s liquid metal AM technology that uses standard aluminum wire. There are no metal powders with ElemX and no need for special facility modifications or personal protective equipment to operate the machine. The printer also requires minimal post-processing and therefore provides a faster time-to-part. This ability to produce reliable replacement parts on-demand reduces the dependency on complex global supply chains for deployed forces.

To withstand the various sea states and environmental challenges that warships encounter, the ElemX was installed in an industrial shipping container to ruggedize it. Trials have already begun aboard Essex to establish operational guidelines and technical feasibility studies to determine applications and use cases. A team on board USS Essex will design and print shipboard items and provide feedback to NPS and Commander, Naval Surface Force Pacific (COMNAVSURPAC).

The ElemX 3D printer was commercially introduced in February 2021, and since then, Elem Additive Solutions has expanded operations, including opening an Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence in Cary, N.C.

Xerox ElemX 3D metal printer installed on USS Essex (LHD 2)

Xerox ElemX 3D metal printer installed on USS Essex (LHD 2)